|Shaun and friends|
Shaun the Shepherd
A Review of Shaun the Sheep: The Movie by Nick Olszyk
MPAA Rating, PG
USCCB Rating, A-II
Reel Rating, Four Reels
My college chaplain Fr. Rafael Luevano was fond of telling his students that when Jesus refers to mankind as sheep, “it is not a compliment.” Sheep are pretty dumb: they get caught in brambles, are too slow to evade predators, and usually go wherever the sheep in front of them is going. The one exception may be Shaun, a lovable little guy with a knack for mischief. However, when he hatches a plan for a holiday with his pals, their master goes missing, leading to a series of misadventures. Unlike more edgy animation typical of Dreamworks, this little gem is quite gentle and charming, perfect for preschoolers with a little bit of harmless adult humor for their parents.
Shaun (Justin Fletcher) was first introduced in the Academy Award winning series Wallace and Gromit and later starred in his own television series, but this is his first time getting the big screen treatment. He lives on a quaint little plot of land with some other animals under the watchful eye of the Farmer (John Sparkes), who runs a strict regimen with the help of his dog Bitzer (also John Sparkes). Shaun wants a little excitement for a change, so he hatches a plan to put the Farmer to sleep temporarily in a trailer so they can watch TV, eat pizza, and have a few cocktails. Their day off goes terribly awry when the Farmer’s trailer rolls away and gets lost in the Big City next door. Shaun and his gang of misfit ungulates must navigate this strange new world while evading the ever watchful eyes of Trumper, head of the local animal containment unit.
Shaun’s biggest shtick is silence; there is no dialogue whatsoever. Like the great comedians before “talkies,” the film depends entirely on physical humor. This leads to some enormously funny sequences. The Farmer is an Arthur Dent-type: ordinary looks, ordinary demeanor, and perfectly content with an ordinary life. After waking up in the Big City with memory loss, he wanders into a salon and begins to cut everyone’s hair based on muscle memory. This sheepish hair style becomes a craze, turning him into an instant celebrity and the object of every meme. My favorite bit is when Shaun and Bitzer are sent to the pound after getting captured by Trumper. Inside, there’s a dog with the words “bark” and “bite” written on his knuckles, a cat in a cone that imitates Hannibal Lecter, and a harmonica playing goldfish behind bars though it’s already in a bowl. To top it off, there’s even a sheep that uses coconuts to create clopping noises.
In the New Testament, Jesus is called “the good shepherd” on several occasions. The Farmer’s sheep think their life is dull and repressive, but once he’s gone everything on the farm goes downhill fast. In an interesting role reversal, it is sheep that then go looking for their master. In the real world, it is Christ who comes to us, but we too need to participate by accepting his help, for “all who seek find.” In the process of searching, Shaun realizes that he needs the Farmer beyond just the evolutionary instinct for food and shelter; there is a close affection between them. Understanding this impulse, Shaun also helps a street dog who needs a home.
Perhaps the greatest compliment one can give a film is that it captures a little bit of Heaven, and Shaun’s family has it. The song “Feels Like Summer” is repeated frequently throughout the film, beautifully echoing this sentiment:
Once you were here, the worries disappeared,
it all became clear, nothing left to fear,
you have got my back, keepin' me on track,
like you always do
Time of our lives, such a sweet surprise,
together we survive, ever starry-eyed beyond any price,
pure as paradise, comin' into view
When the Farmer first meets Shaun in the Big City, he doesn’t recognize him; however, as soon as the song is heard, his memory comes back. The song is also used to calm down a lamb when it is homesick. Paradise isn’t a place but here with one’s friends on Earth and with one’s friends in Heaven.
As much as I enjoyed this picture, I really can’t recommend seeing it in the theaters. It’s too intimate and would be much better as part of a home collection, where little ones could curl up on the couch with their parents – and maybe some Shaun the Sheep merchandise. It’s fun, it’s silly, and only wool is shed, never tears except for joy in finding a home such as this.
This article first appeared in Catholic World Report on August 10th, 2015.